Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Not All That Buzzes is Black and Gold

The airspace on the farm is busy.  There is no air traffic control, but no one seems to collide.  I'm a giant lumbering along amongst the cloud of busy insects as I work my way down rows of flowers and vegetables.  They hardly seem to notice me as they go about their work.  With so much time and so many insects, I've gotten to know their sounds well.  You can tell an amazing number of buzzing insects by the qualities of their buzzes.

The easiest to recognize are the cicada killer wasps I wrote about a few weeks ago (here).  They have a steady bass tone - a low buzz in which you can occasionally hear individual wing beats.  They are loud and their pitch only changes from the Doppler Effect, lowering a bit as they fly away.

Cicada killer wasp.  Picture source.
Bumblebees are the most common on rows of flowers.  Their buzzing is all fits and starts as they whiz from one flower to the next.  They seem to have trouble steering because they swerve around a flower's entrance before crawling onto it, so their pitch varies widely as they try to align themselves for landing. They are generally loud and low in pitch.

Bumblebee.  Picture source.
Honeybees are quiet and unfortunately rare on the farm.  They move and sound a lot like quiet, higher-pitched bumblebees.  If bumblebees are the bases, honeybees are the tenors.  Sweat bees are the sopranos.  They have these little tiny, quiet buzzes as they try to wedge themselves into the backs of your knees so they can sting you when you squat down.  They are usually unnervingly near you, and they whiz off when you try to swat them.

Sweat bee.  Picture source.
The bugs, stink bugs and assassin bugs, are hilarious once you get used to them.  They buzz so stereotypically that I expect them to have little captions over their heads filled with z's.   They hide amongst the green parts of plants instead of the flowers, and they wait until the last minute to try to escape from a perceived threat.  I'll be harvesting tomatoes and all of a sudden a loud buzzing bug will be flying erratically very near by.  No other buzzing insect buzzes so close and loud. 

Leaf footed bug.  Picture source.
There are some stealth insects too.  Wasps usually don't make a sound.  If you are very quiet, you can hear a little purring noise when they are very close, but usually they just seem to float by noiselessly.

Paper wasp.  Picture source.

1 comment:

  1. I forgot to mention the background buzzing. Off in the distance, in the trees at the edge of the property, there are all kinds of buzzing and chirping insects. The cicadas provide a background drone. The katydids have their hypnotic rhythm. The tree crickets chirp and buzz. If I listen too much to the bugs in the trees, I get sleepy and want to lay down in the grass for a nap. But then I'd get chiggers...hopefully I won't be writing about them.